Getting Your Greens On – Why You Should Eat Leafy Greens
Green leafy vegetables are the foods most missing in our modern diets.
A very sad fact given that the latest word from the nutrition world is that they may be our most powerful ally against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic degenerative diseases. Dark leafy greens include among many others: kale, chard, collards, bok choy, mustard greens, arugula, spinach and watercress. These nutritious veggies supply minerals such as calcium and iron keeping our bones and blood healthy. They also contain magnesium, an essential mineral that is important in over 300 physiological processes in the body, including the production of ATP, the body’s energy currency. They contain an array of vitamins, like Vitamin A, C and E making them anti-oxidant cancer fighters in the body. These nutrient dense green vegetables also contain powerful carotenoids, a broad range of substances that researchers are studying for their effect on the immune system and their role in cancer prevention. In fact, carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, in leafy greens been shown to inhibit the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells, skin cancer cells, lung cancer and stomach cancer.
Leafy green veggies are also protective against heart disease.
A recent study showed that people who had more lutein in their blood has less thickening of the arteries than those with lower levels of lutein. Artery thickness is a good indicator of atherosclerosis, which is the disease that leads to most heart attacks and strokes. Leafy greens also are rich in folate, a B vitamin that also promotes heart health and may reduce memory loss. Since folate is also involved in the production of serotonin, leafy greens are associated with warding off depression and uplifting mood. Finally, consuming more leafy green vegetables is associated with lower risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, with one meta-analysis finding that greater leafy green intake was associated with a 14% decrease in such risk.
Researchers have even discovered that a special type of immune cell found in the lining of our small intestines that can be controlled by the consumption of these disease-busting veggies in our diet. These immune cells known as ILCs for short (the full name is innate lymphoid cells) help to maintain a healthy gut by promoting good bacteria while also healing small wounds in its tissues. It is believed ILCs also play a role in healing cancerous lesions in the intestine and therefore may decrease risk for development of bowel cancers. Research believes that ILC’s play a critical role in preventing obesity, and inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. ILC’s are produced through a gene called “T-bet” and it turns out that dark leafy green vegetables are what trigger these genes to activate and produce these vital ILC cells.
Learning to incorporate dark leafy greens in your food is essential for creating health.
When you nourish your body with greens they naturally crowd out the foods that are not serving you and making you sick. Be adventurous and try greens you’ve never heard of before. Greens by themselves aren’t very appealing so they need a little company to taste good. However, a little help from a bit of olive oil, garlic, onions, a squirt of lemon juice or a sprinkling of pine nuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, or even dried fruit like cherries, raisins is all it takes. Greens also pair well with colorful veggies like carrots, bell pepper and tomatoes. They’re incredibly satisfying when matched up with beans, lentils, chickpeas and whole grains like quinoa as well. As for cooking methods, there’s such a wide range including sautéing, stir frying or blanching (quick boiling).
The truth is you don’t have to make radical changes in your eating to boost leafy greens in your diet. There are ways to easily add them into your everyday meals.
As you look at each meal, ask yourself, “where can I add in more green veggies.” If you enjoy eggs in the morning, consider throwing in a few handfuls of baby kales or spinach in a simple scramble, frittata or omelet. Enjoy a hearty and delicious salad everyday. And if you don’t have time for a big salad, I always say drink your salad with simple and delicious green smoothies with a mix of kale or spinach paired with cucumber, green apple and limejuice. Munch on a few savory kale chips. Enjoy collards or romaine lettuce as a wrapper instead of tortillas or bread. Try a simple stir frye with broccoli or roasted brussel sprouts as a simple side dish. If you enjoy grilled or baked fish or chicken, consider serving it atop a bed of sautéed greens and garlic. Soups or stews are another easy place to add in any number of greens such as chard, kale or cabbage. Using these simple suggestions, makes it very easy to consume at the recommended 4-5 servings a day. So go experiment and get your greens on! To say it was important for your health would be a huge understatement. Because the health benefits are so plentiful and wide ranging, eating more leafy greens is truly one of the most simple yet powerful changes available to you in your journey towards optimum health.
Sauteed Kale with Pine Nuts
- 1 bunch Lacinato kale, chopped into bite size pieces
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly roasted
- 3 tablespoons golden raisins
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- On a baking sheet, toast pine nuts for about 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
- Fill bowl with water and submerge chopped greens.
- In a medium sauté pan, over medium heat, warm the olive oil.
- Sauté onion until soft and translucent (5-7 minutes).
- Lift greens out of water bath and add to pan. Sauté until greens are soft, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add salt, pepper, garlic and raisins and cook an additional about 5 minutes until kale is wilted and raisins are softened.
- Sprinkle with pine nuts, toss until well combined and serve.